John Denver died in the water -- he crashed his experimental plane into California's Monterey Bay in 1997 -- but he lived in, and for, the mountains. So it's fitting that a group of climbers is now trying to reach, and then scale, the northernmost -- and never-before-climbed -- mountain in the northernmost mountain range in the world, which the adventurers hope will later be named John Denver Peak.
The nine adventurers, who call themselves the 2001 Return to the Top of the World Expedition, flew to Frigg's Fjord, Greenland, on July 12 and have just traversed a glacier on their way to the Roosevelt Range, which is only about 400 miles from the North Pole. The plan was to begin climbing the as-yet-unnamed peak on July 18, according to Javana Richardson, who on July 7 saw the group off at Denver International Airport, where Denver's mother, Erma Deutschendorf, also waved goodbye. "One of the members, Jim McCrain, brought his guitar, and he plays John Denver's music," Richardson says. "So once they get to the peak, they plan to sing some of his songs and then read some of my poetry."
Poetry? You bet. Richardson runs StarsEnd Creations, a Greenwood Village-based publishing company, and is the author of A Tribute to John Denver: Poems, Prayers and Promises, a 100-page collection that includes poems dedicated to Denver, as well as anecdotes, photos and stories from some of his friends and associates. So far, Richardson's sold hundreds of thousands of copies of the book to a rabid following that became almost cultlike after the warbler's death. (Just plug the words "John Denver" into any Internet search engine and you'll see what we're talking about.) Richardson, who has also penned three cookbooks, is the communication point person for the $100,000 expedition, and she plans to collaborate on a true-adventure book with Top of the World trip co-leader John Jancik (one of four Colorado residents on the expedition) and team member Steve Gardiner. If all goes well, that volume, tentatively titled Under the Midnight Sun, will be released next summer and will tell the story of the climb, which has the psychological support of Denver's family, the Windstar Foundation (which Denver created) and Governor Bill Owens.
Even more important, the trip received financial backing from Microsoft, which also came through with cutting-edge equipment that the climbers are trying out, including iridium satellite phones, a ten-ounce pocket PC, software, a modem and a camera. The group can upload and download information, check e-mail and communicate with Richardson using the equipment. (The members are also gathering soil, air and water samples for the University of Montana, which is researching the effects of pollution in northern Greenland.) But the phone batteries are running out faster than expected, Richardson says, so although the climbers plan to call when they reach the top of John Denver Peak, that may be the last communication until they reach the pickup point.
Right now, the group is scheduled to be taken out by plane on July 27, with a July 30 return to Denver. "I'm sure they'll have lots of success and great inspirational stories for us," Richardson says. And after they've reached the summit, they'll also have the goods to petition Greenland's government to name the mountain John Denver Peak. "This act," according to the expedition's statement of purpose, "would recognize Mr. Denver's love and commitment to protect and preserve the wild places left on Earth as well as enhance the world's attention on this diverse but fragile arctic ecosystem."
After all, he was a Rocky Mountain guy.
Rain, rain go away: The folks who took refuge from the deluge inside the Morrison Inn before the July 10 installment of the City of Denver-sponsored Film on the Rocks at Red Rocks -- Opie Gone Bad and the Rocky Horror Picture Show -- had the right idea: Stay inside and drink! Although the show did go on after a rain delay (and crazed Rocky Horror fans may have set a world record for the number of people viewing the cult classic at once), this month's unusually wet weather has been anything but picture-perfect for the city.
On July 11, Opera on the Rocks, a popular annual event at Red Rocks, was delayed and then cut short because of torrential downpours and lighting. "They got through about two-thirds of the program, so it was definitely disappointing for us," says Colorado Symphony Association spokeswoman Jennifer Schum.
"Our musicians' instruments, especially the strings, can cost upwards of hundreds of thousand of dollars, so if they get wet, they are basically ruined," she adds. "We try to protect them as much as possible." So much so, in fact, that another symphony event, this one set for Sloan Lake on July 13, was rescheduled entirely because of forecasts for rain and hail. The free concert -- titled "The Great Outdoors," ironically enough -- went on the next day at the indoor Boettcher Concert Hall.
Did the city anger the entertainment gods when it began presenting so many of its own shows? Has Denver brought this curse down upon itself?
Schum, who spent that soggy, very unlucky Friday the 13th stuck on westbound I-70 waiting out a rain-induced mudslide, won't venture to guess. "We feel very fortunate that we partner with them," she says. "I can only say good things about the city."
The same goes for perky Winter Park spokeswoman Joan Christensen, who insists that attendees at last weekend's Winter Park Jazz Festival enjoyed spending the majority of their grooving hours underneath umbrellas and tarps as rain pelted the mountain resort. "The festival has a very loyal following, and the people who come know what to bring," she says. "They just whipped out their ponchos and pulled out their slickers.
"I know the rain really slowed down traffic," she adds, referring to the mudslides that caught Schum. "But it didn't seem like it had too much impact on business."
And since the city, which owns Winter Park, helped the festival promoter, Winter Park Music Inc., with media relations, Christensen can't think of anything Denver did to offend the good-weather gods.
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The state pen is mightier than the sword: David Graham, the former Air Force Academy cadet whose deadly love triangle with two teenage girls resulted in national headlines five years ago and a true-crime movie of the week, has officially joined the Fourth Estate. The Dallas Morning News reports that Graham, who is currently serving a life sentence in a Texas prison, will be the new co-editor of The Echo, the state's prison newspaper.
Graham, who attended the academy in Colorado Springs, and his ex-fiancée, former Naval Academy midshipman Diane Zamora, were both convicted of kidnapping and shooting sixteen-year-old Adrianne Jones in December 1995 in their hometown of Mansfield, Texas. Prosecutors said Zamora ordered Graham -- both were seniors in high school at the time -- to kill Jones after Graham had a one-time sexual encounter with her. The 1998 trials were carried live on Court TV and resulted in the NBC sleazoid movie Love's Deadly Triangle: The Texas Cadet Murder.
According to the News, Graham, now 23, was selected as co-editor of the prison paper because he's completed an associate's degree while behind bars, has strong computer skills and has written short stories and entered essay contests. Unfortunately, the paper was shut down for security reasons after the escape last December of the Texas Seven -- the group that was eventually rounded up in Woodland Park. But publication of The Echo will resume this fall.